Cincinnati struggled from the free-throw line and 3-point arc Friday night and it cost them a quality win. Against the top teams which grace the schedule the rest of the way MIck Cronin acknowledges effort won't be enough, shots will need to fall.
CINCINNATI --- Often when analyzing a difficult loss, coaches and players point to a lack of intensity or a lull in the team's focus that allowed the opposing team to rip off a critical run.
That wouldn't be the case Friday night in the 62-55 loss to Georgetown. A charged atmosphere of a season high 12,842 mirrored the intensity of the home team as they blocked shots, created steals, dove on the floor and broke out all the signature hustle plays necessary to pull off a victory against a team ranked No. 15 in the country.
Only, on this night the Bearcats would need more than effort. They would need more than hustle. In fact, barrelling down a brutal stretch the rest of the season they will need more than try hard. At some point against a team that has now won seven in a row and stand alone atop the conference like Georgetown, a shot will need to fall from 3-point range and free throws will need to drop.
Friday night, they didn't. Thus, the Bearcats are left digesting a signature win that slipped away.
"We tried with maximum effort to do it but we didn't make enough shots and we didn't make enough free throws," Mick Cronin said. "Effort can only get you so far."
Most times problems made complicated in the minds of many can be simple in the bottom line. Particularly in a first half filled with open looks and a parade of free throws, the Bearcats witnessed shot after shot fall in and out or carom off the mark.
Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright combined to make 3 of 15 shots from deep and the team hit 17 of 30 free throws.
In a game that was within one possession until fouls in the final minute, figure if UC only would have shot 25 percent from 3-point range - still five percentage points below their conference play average - the storyline instead would have been of the latest emergence of a Bearcats group again circling the wagons for a late-season surge.
If Justin Jackson connects at the 63 percent he's shot from the line in conference play or Titus Rubles the 73 percent he's done since the Big East began, UC's comeback would have been complete and stories about the remarkable 11-point run by JaQuon Parker to pull UC ahead would fill the Internet.
Instead, the shots didn't fall. And the Bearcats are dealing with a third loss in four games and frustrating 7-6 record in conference.
Such will be the axiom for this team. Due to their makeup of perimeter scorers, the offensive swings will come and go and be enough to add wrinkles to the face of the head coach or loyal supporters. They will ultimately decide if this team wins or loses against the elite teams in the country. Their level of superb defense has been established and rarely wavers. When 12 of 25 from deep against Villanova happens, turn out the lights. When 4 of 24 from 3-point land happens against Georgetown, the dark nights will drench the basketball offices.
The margin for error on the superb defense is forced into nearly impossible situation otherwise.
"Got to be great on defense when you were struggling on offense," Cronin said. "We were good, we weren't great."
Complaining about free throw shooting will get you about as far as complaining about the weather. No amount of worrying about it or researching will change the fact some days it will rain. Some day the sun will shine. It's all about how you deal with it. Friday it rained.
"It happens to everybody," Cronin said. "You got to make sure your team doesn't let it affect them and focus on defense."
Now, the focus turns toward a game Thursday at Connecticut and five more games before the Big East tournament to catch the type of roll that can carry them back to the Sweet Sixteen. Taking the next step won't be a matter of try-hard, it will be a matter seeing enough shots fall down and critical mistakes avoided. Concerns over the current position in the league and overall are being shelved by the players in exchange for perspective.
"We are disappointed, but as an older team we realize all you got to do is get to the tournament," Wright said. "We just got to get there. All that will take core of itself and get rolling when the time comes."
When the time comes, they'll need to make shots. It's the undeniable truth with many teams, but rarely more so than with this particular group.
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